Court orders compensation to man who was arrested for protesting in front of Castille
A court yesterday ordered the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General to pay the sum of €2,000 in compensation to Ignatius Busuttil, the man who was arrested and sent to Mount Carmel Hospital for protesting outside Castille Place two years ago.
The case dates back to 2014, when 59-year-old Busuttil carried out a peaceful protest against the planning authority (Mepa) outside the Prime Minister’s Office. The man was arrested, interrogated, and sent to Mount Carmel Hospital after the protest.
Mr Busuttil had carried out other protests for which he was also questioned and warned by the police not to go to Castille again. In the official statement given to the police and signed by Mr Busuttil, he was asked why he wanted to speak to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, what he intended to say to Dr Muscat and what his grievances with Mepa are.
The police asked him whether he had ever tried to make a formal appointment with Dr Muscat or any other government officials. The police then asked Mr Busuttil whether he has any mental problems.
The court, presided by Judge Joseph Zammit McKeon, heard how Mr Busuttil carried out the protest on his own and was no threat to national or public security. Mr Busuttil argued that the police had stopped him from expressing himself.
Mr Busuttil was accused of disobeying police orders and obstructing traffic. During the initial questioning, the police warned Mr Busuttil not to “go to Castille again and break the law”.
After the Police arrested him they took him to the Valletta depot. He was then taken to the Floriana clinic and seen by a doctor. The doctor gave him an appointment to see a psychiatrist at Mater Dei the following morning.
Still under arrest at this point, the police then took Mr Busuttil back to the depot and asked him to sign the statement which he had given them. The police then took him to Mater Dei where he was seen by another doctor. From there, he was transported under arrest to Mount Carmel via ambulance.
Mr Busuttil said he was sent to Mount Carmel for three days but only ended up staying overnight.
Mr Busuttil had decided to head to Castille to protest after an appointment he had with an official from Mepa. According to Mr Busuttil, the Mepa official was speaking to him as if he was “talking to a child”. At this point, the accused decided to head to Castille to speak with the Prime Minister directly. When he parked the car at the square, a soldier who was stationed at the steps of Castille told him that he was not allowed to leave the car there. As he was speaking to him, a police officer booked Mr Busuttil for illegal parking. The accused asked why did the police issue a ticket if it was a question of a couple of minutes and by the time the conversation ended, six police officers had approached the car.
To avoid the situation escalating, the accused had agreed to get in the car with the police.
After this first incident, the man went to protest in front of Castille another two times.
The court noted that Busuttil’s behaviour had a certain unconformity, but it was not illegal. It censored the police for being afraid of the demonstration and went from handing a parking ticket to prejudicing the person’s dignity. “The right to protest is an integral part of freedom of expression.”
The Judge further noted that for such an action from the police force to be justified, there needs to be sufficient proof that the matter would endanger national or public security, which in this case was neither.